Consistency, changeup the key to Pineda's success Monday - and going forward
NEW YORK - Prior to Monday's Yankees home opener, manager Joe Girardi said of starter Michael Pineda that "we've seen him have very good outings here, and today would be a great time to have another."
So, how was the skipper feeling as Pineda progressed through four, five, and six innings, into the seventh with a perfect game intact?
"You're thinking it's going to be another special day here at the Stadium," Girardi said after the game. "He pitched really well today; his stuff was really good, and I thought he had a shot."
Pineda's fastball has always been live, and Yankees fans know that if his slider is on point, it's unhittable at times. But on Monday, it was actually Big Mike's third pitch that both he and the skipper felt was key to his dominant 7 2/3 innings.
"He had better command and I thought his slider was more consistent today," Girardi said, "but I think Michael mixed his pitches, and threw a lot more changeups today. He and (catcher Austin Romine) did a really good job."
"Romine and I had a good plan, and I was executing all my pitches - especially my changeup," Pineda added. "I felt good with it in the bullpen, and I had a good grip today. I knew it was going to be the good pitch in the game today. I could see the action before the game started, so I threw it more."
Pineda admitted he wasn't really aware of what was in progress until the fourth inning, but he didn't change anything; teammates weren't ignoring him in the dugout as is usual custom in the midst of a no-hitter, and he himself was only thinking about the next hitter.
A strong plan, but there were other moments within the game that showed a different kind of maturity for Pineda, too. One of those came after he allowed Evan Longoria's seventh-inning double, which broke up the perfect game after 6 2/3 innings and brought pitching coach Larry Rothschild to the mound.
"They came to the mound and just told me not to lose focus, to stay aggressive and continue pitching my game," Pineda said of the visit. "Just keep going hitter-by-hitter."
Pineda's struggles with two outs last year were widely publicized, but prior to the double, Rays hitters were 0-for-6 with five strikeouts in two-out situations Monday. To the Yankees' delight, the situation reverted right back to daily norm after Longoria, because Pineda struck out Brad Miller to end the inning, and then got two more outs in the seventh (with a Logan Morrison solo homer sandwiched in).
"It really comes down to location with Michael, not making mistakes with his fastball and slider," Girardi noted. "That first hit he gave up today was a slider up - but when his location is on, he's tough to hit."
When all was said and done, after a slick play by Chase Headley at third gave Big Mike his final out in the eighth, the sellout crowd of 46,955 at Yankee Stadium gave Pineda a huge ovation, and brought an even bigger smile to his face.
"Today was Opening Day and the fans were excited, so I was happy to have that energy," the big righty said. "I could see they were getting excited, especially when I was striking guys out. They were so happy, and I felt good walking off the mound. It was a good moment for me."
And, as he watched his hurler walk off the mound, Girardi also felt happy for Pineda.
"I think this has to extremely satisfying for him, because he didn't pitch well in his first start against the Rays," Girardi said. "This is a team that just hit him pretty hard five days ago, but he was able to make the adjustments, and that has to be gratifying for him."
The hope now is that Pineda, whose inconsistency puzzled even Girardi at the end of last season, can carry Monday's performance not just into his next start Sunday night against the Cardinals, but the rest of the way through his final guaranteed year in the Bronx.
"What I saw today was a pitcher who used all his pitches, and the hope is that he learns a ton from today," Girardi said. "Hopefully he learns that you have to make adjustments out there, use all your pitches, and move the ball around. If you do that, you have a chance to be really successful."
After all, Girardi knows Pineda has the stuff to be a front-line starter if he can stay consistent.
"It's all about consistency; his fastball moves and cuts, his slider's very good, and I thought his changeup was good today," Girardi said. "But he's a big guy with a lot of moving parts, and it's harder to be consistent sometimes when you're so big."
And, while the Yankees know what they have in Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, with a back end of the rotation that currently features another enigma in Luis Severino and a rookie in Jordan Montgomery, Girardi knows that at worst, Pineda simply needs to hold up his end of the bargain as a No. 3 starter for the team to succeed.
"He's really important. If we want to do the things we set out to do, it's important that Michael shares the load, because he has the ability to do that."